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Quarantine Chronicles: Nicol Harris

NICOL HARRIS owns Twinkle Twinkle Little Shop in Richmond Hill, a children’s consignment store that is trying new things to drive business in the wake of COVID-19. She’s a mother of 11 and a grandmother of 5 (and the mother-in-law of Connect’s Arts & Entertainment Editor, Sean Kelly).

This is her Quarantine Chronicle.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

What’s happening here is we’re having to find new ways to reach out to customers, because we have a very, very heavy traffic flow normally. Realistically, we were only down for two weeks in March, but my sales went down 65 percent in two weeks. March and April are my busiest months because of spring and Easter, and we carry really adorable Easter bows and Easter dresses, but people aren’t really celebrating Easter like they usually do. So we just try to reach out to the community.

We’re doing FaceTime calls, which is working really well—you just call me and we schedule a time, we pull the clothes and toys you’re looking for. We’ve never done that before. We’re delivering locally, we’re putting lots and lots of stuff on our Facebook page, we are delivering fun boxes to people’s homes, which is just a box for their kids full of books and puzzles. We’re doing curbside delivery and shipping out too, because there are people who don’t want to leave home at all.

We’re also doing solo shopping appointments, because my store is really big and I can stay six feet away from everybody behind my counter. If they want to come in by themselves, they can—we lock the door and they just shop.

We have hand sanitizer, we always disinfect everything because we are a children’s store. I have a lot of kids, so I’ve always been really big on spraying stuff down. Even before this, I would spray all the toys down in the back room—we’ve always been really clean when it comes to stuff that kid are touching.

It’s working out okay. It’s definitely not sustaining my lease here, but we’re making something. Luckily, my husband has a job—he’s a truck driver, so he’s essential. We’ll get through, I hope. I don’t know how much longer.

The thing is, too, in thus community, there’s a lot of pregnant moms who still need to come and get stuff. They need maternity clothes, newborn clothes, swings, bassinets. People still need that, and they don’t want to go to Walmart because there are so many people in Walmart. I feel like we’re a better alternative because even when I’m super busy, we don’t have ten people in here. A lot of moms are using me for, “Oh, I’m going to have a baby soon, I need to get newborn stuff.”

How has the pandemic affected you personally?

I’m a germaphobe normally because I have so many kids. If somebody gets sick, the whole family gets sick. We homeschool anyway. What’s really weird about this is we kind of live a quarantine life normally, because I’m not even joking when I tell you this: I try not to take my kids to the grocery store unless I have no other choice. If I do, we are hand sanitizing and I have a cart cover for my younger children so they don’t sit in the cart and get all those germs.

I don’t like crowded places, we do not like Chuck E. Cheese, we do not like parks. If we go to a park and there’s 500 kids, we will literally drive around until we find a park that’s kind of empty. This is my normal. We’ve lived this life before, really. The only difference is now it’s really affecting my business.

What’s been your process of trying these new business ideas?

My team consists of my daughters, who are all very young and hip, very into social media. Sean’s wife is my daughter, so Kennedy is the store manager at Anthropologie, so I talk to her. I have a daughter that lives in Atlanta and she’s the Instagram queen, so she gives me ideas. And I have daughters at home.

I have one girl that works with me, Callie, she’s my right hand lady. I’m also friends with the other consignment store, Another Debut, and Amy and I brainstormed together and did a Facebook Live together in the beginning.

I even look at other children’s consignment stores in other areas just to see what they’re doing. I’m just talking to my girls and to Amy, trying to figure out what we can do to bring a little bit of cash flow at this time.

We hear a lot of people saying, “All businesses should be closed,” and I would love to hear what you’d have to say to those people.

I am a small business, and I feel like I am a necessity in the community. We did cut our hours way back, though. We just offer a service. We’re not taking drop-offs right now; we’re just trying to get rid of the inventory we still have in here.

I’m going to come in here no matter what everyday, because I have stuff to do. Technically, I’m not really open because people aren’t coming in unless they ask me or I’m delivering it. I feel like Walmart and all these big places are packed, and we’re here to support children.

I did call my council to make sure, and what they’re telling me is that as long as I don’t have a lot of people, which I never have a lot of people in here normally. A lot of people would rather just FaceTime me and look at all the stuff that way.

What would you want other people to know?

My struggle is real. Today we’re 75 percent down from last month. I’ve never seen numbers like that, ever. In the two years I’ve owned it, it’s never done this.

I don’t think people realize how hard it is when you’re a small business and you lose so much so quickly. We’re trying to scramble for ideas. We’re family owned, we’re in the community we live in, and I know we’re a really important part of Richmond Hill and moms love coming in and shopping.

It’s a very scary time for me, because I would never want to close door, and I’m going to do everything I can to keep us open. I just hope it doesn’t go on for much longer.